Da (Mother) 77

The Memoirs of Seyyedeh Zahra Hoseyni

Seyyedeh Zahra Hoseyni
Translated from the Persian with an Introduction by Paul Sprachman

2023-12-24


Da (Mother) 77

The Memoirs of Seyyedeh Zahra Hoseyni

Seyyedeh Zahra Hoseyni

Translated from the Persian with an Introduction by Paul Sprachman

Persian Version (2008)

Sooreh Mehr Publishing House

English Version (2014)

Mazda Publishers

 

***

 

Then he ran toward the hospital and dove into some box trees behind a metal railing. The soldier, whose name was Abdol Reza, made me angry. He and his friend Nemat were at father’s burial. They came by Jannatabad often. Although they were friends and came from the same town, Abdol Reza and Nemat could not have been more different. Despite his bulk, Nemat was quick on his feet and smart, without an ounce of fear. I had heard from his friends that he was not right in the head. He would just charge right at the Iraqis. They even said he would loot their bodies. One time I saw Abdol Reza without Nemat and asked, “What do you know! You’re by yourself? Where’s your friend?”

In a thick Lori accent, he said, “The boy’s as stubborn as a mule. All by himself he took a broken-down Iraqi tank and drove it to Ahvaz for repair. The turret cannon was broken, but he insisted, ‘We’ve got to get the thing fixed.’ I don’t know what to do with him. There’s just his mother. If he goes on this way, he’ll wind up dead. What’ll I tell his mother, then?”

I waited a few minutes for the sound of the planes to die down, then I got up and walked over to the caretaker. He was in horrible shape. The shrapnel had entered through the back of his neck, mangling it so much that he didn’t look natural. But even though the back of his head was crushed and his brains were matted in his hair, I could still make out his face. The last time I had seen him he was prone, but now he was lying on his side. It seemed he had tried to turn over. I took his pulse. He didn’t have one. He was killed instantly. There was shrapnel all over his body, and a lot of blood still flowed from his neck. His legs were braided like a pretzel. Everything was blood red. I felt sick, without an ounce of strength left, and started throwing up. It was one of those times I just wanted to die, end it all, so I wouldn’t have to see such things. I couldn’t stand any more of this. I called out to Abdol Reza, but I didn’t want to be too loud because people would have run toward me and be forced to see this sight. Abdol Reza didn’t come. He probably had gotten a glimpse of the body. “I’m not coming there,” he said. “You come here. All of these people, they’ll crowd around, you know.”

“What does that mean?” I asked angrily. “Come on now.”

I didn’t know what the matter was. He was probably terrified or maybe he was as unhappy with me as I was with him. He said, “The planes will be right back. Understand? You want to die, fine, but you’re going to get everybody else killed along with you. Girl, why are you acting like such a big shot? You’re young; act your age.”

I didn’t answer him and started to think about how I was going to gather up the caretaker’s body. I thought I would get a stretcher from the hospital across the way. At that point two men, who had been by the Shatt, appeared. They were also affected by the state the body was in. Although they had seen ugly things like this before, they were not prepared to handle the body—and rightly so, I thought. As I searched for a way to carry the body, another worker from the municipality came with a wheelbarrow from the direction of the Farmandari Circle. I thought I would use that. I ran forward, pointed to the body, and asked him for the wheelbarrow.

He stared in horror at where I was pointing and immediately gave me the wheelbarrow. He also joined me and the other two men in lifting the body. The bulk of it fit inside, but the legs dangled from one end and from the other what little was left of the head with blood seeping from the severed arteries. After the men had wheeled the body to the morgue, Evil Zahra returned from the Shatt. There was no sign of enemy planes, and the process of loading people on the boats was running smoothly now. I was about to go back to the mosque, but before I got to the circle, she asked, “If you’re going, why don’t you come home with me?”

“I’m not feeling well. You go.”

“I’m not going alone. You come, too,” she said.

“What’s the problem?” I asked, “Forget how to go?”

“When that kid fell in the water, I got a bad feeling. Let’s go.”

“No,” I said.

She pleaded so much I had to give in. We passed the circle and turned toward the bridge. A car gave us a ride to the entrance to Kut-e Sheikh. The bombardments had left the neighborhood in ruins, driving most people from their homes. Zahra negotiated alley after alley in silence, and soon it seemed to me that it was taking too long to find her house. Knowing her, I became a little afraid. She had said so many contradictory things in the past that none of the girls trusted her. By now I was worried this was some kind of trap. I started mumbling prayers and, trying to stay calm, I asked, “We haven’t reached this house of yours yet? What’s the problem?”

She didn’t say anything. “Do you actually know your way home?” I asked again. “Or are you just leading me down the garden path? I’m going back.”

“Don’t. We’re almost there,” she said.

We reached a brick house decorated with thin white stones. Zahra pounded and pounded on the blue, metal door of the compound, but no one came. The noise brought several people from their homes. When one of them saw us, he said, “Most people have gone since the bombardments.”

He turned to Evil Zahra and said, “Your family is in the date grove across the way.”

I said, “I’m going back, then.”

“No,” she insisted, “let’s go to the grove.”

The man’s words put my mind at ease about Zahra telling the truth, so I decided to accompany her. As we were leaving, the man said to her, “Your child was really acting up. Where were you?”

“What child?” I asked in surprise.

Ignoring the man, Zahra said, “Let’s go.”

“Why don’t you answer him? Does he mean your sister? Your brother?”

“Let’s go. I’ll tell you later,” she said.

We walked from Kut-e Sheikh to the date grove across the road. It was extensive, large enough to accommodate quite a crowd. If I hadn’t just been through a bombardment at the Shatt, I would have said that it was the beginning of the spring New Year, the time when people came to picnic in the grove. The ground was covered with grass, wild flowers, chamomile, and clover, which perfumed the air. Here and there the palms still had dates, some of which were ripe, on the ground by the trees. The families had taken shelter there and spread carpeting and blankets in the dry irrigation channels that separated one row of palms from the next. They had hung swings from the boughs for the children. Here and there clothes were drying on the ground. Everything was there for a picnic: gas canisters, thermoses, water pipes, cups, plates…. We soon found Zahra’s family in the crowd.

As if of two minds, Zahra stood to one side before showing herself to her family. I watched them as they sat in the channel. It was a large family with a number of men sitting around talking and smoking. Several women were looking after the children. A woman who seemed older than the others sat a bit apart, deep in thought. There was a scrawny child with a pale yellow complexion sleeping on one corner of the carpeting. Everything about the child said it was very ill. The poor thing’s belly was distended, and his arms and legs were limp and giving him pain. If it weren’t for the child’s moans, one would think it was dead. After a few moments of indecision, Zahra, looking ashamed and fearful, walked toward her family and said hello. I also greeted them. At once everybody turned toward us, but it seemed no one was glad to see her. They hesitated before saying hello, then they grudgingly answered and turned away. After a few minutes of silence, she whimpered, “What’s new?”

The woman who was older than the rest said, “What could be new? Your child there is about to die. Go and see what it’s going through. We’ve reached the end of our rope with that child.”

Evil Zahra went to the child and picked it up. Too weak to notice, the child’s head flopped to one side. It amazed me to learn that she was a mother and had abandoned her child like that. There was nothing motherly about her. It was as if she had no feelings for the baby. She didn’t even hug or kiss it. It seemed to me that the baby was about to die. Although the child was one year old, in that weakened state the poor thing seemed no more than six months old. Even I was wilting under the family’s angry stares. I stood by a woman who, I gathered, was Zahra’s mother-in-law. The woman asked, “Was she with you?”

“Yes,” I said.

“What do you do?”

“The truth is that I help out at the Congregational Mosque,” I explained.

“What about her? Is she with you there?” she asked.

“Yeah, in the mosque.”

“Listen, I beg you,” she pleaded. “Her kid is about to die. It’s driving us crazy. The child never enters her mind. She never comes around to see what’s happened to us with all firing going on.”

“Why?” I asked astonished.

“Don’t know,” she said. “You’ll have to ask her that.”

I didn’t ask about her husband, what he did. Whatever the case, it seemed that life was not going well for Evil Zahra. She couldn’t have been that indifferent. Thinking that she had found someone willing to hear her troubles, the mother-in-law said in a thick Lori accent, “Is this any way to live, I ask you, dear? How long do you think we can go on like this? These past few days all the children have come down with something. When is this war going to end? How far have our forces gotten? When are these damned Iraqis going to go back into their holes?”

I didn’t know what to tell her. I told her, “Pray, mother. God has to help us.” Then I said, “I’ve got to go.”

“Wait,” Zahra said. “We’ll go together.”

“You don’t need to do that. Stay with the child.”

I said goodbye to them and left the grove. When I got near the bridge a van pulled up and gave me a lift to the Farmandari Circle. Then I walked the rest of the way to the mosque. As I passed the public library and the Ettehad High School, I recalled some schoolboys making a commotion. I imagined that they were playing football or playing piggyback, chasing one another. Now a lot of those boys were at the front.

 

End of Chapter Fourteen

 

To be continued …

 



 
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